By Justin Malloy
Pro Tips: Keeping it Fresh on a Multi-day Backcountry Trip
Many of us seek extended trips into the wilderness to find peace and cleanse the soul. The desert has a unique ability to refresh, revitalize, and regenerate our inner selves. But what can we do to keep our “outer selves”, i.e. our bodies, clean and fresh on these special trips? Here are some tips on how to maintain good hygiene while out in the desert.
River Bath or Solar Shower
Whether you’re on the river or the bike trail, you will have options to wash off the dirt from the day. On rafting trips, the river offers the best way to get clean. After a long, hot day, few things are as refreshing as getting clean in the cool, flowing river. On our bike trips, the river isn’t an option, so we bring a basic solar shower that rides on top of the support van, warming up in the sun throughout the day so it is ready to use at camp.
In either case, biodegradable soap is a necessity in order to protect the fragile desert environment. CampSuds is a popular brand that comes in many different scents, and Holiday will have two or three bottles of it that everyone is welcome to use. Many guides will bring their own soap, and Dr. Bronner’s brand is the clear favorite (mint and lavender being the most popular scents). After your shower or bath, a towel or sarong is handy to have in order to dry off and get dressed with some discretion. If you like to keep your feet clean and sand free in your sleeping bag, a good recommendation is to put on some socks and camp shoes after you get cleaned up.
Just a Quick Refresh
When we are out camping, most of us don’t mind being a little dirty at the end of the day. If you’re just looking to freshen up a bit in lieu of a full shower or bath, make sure to bring along some no rinse body wipes. These are great for cleaning your face, getting the sunscreen off your skin, and wiping away the day’s scent. I have used and enjoyed the Alba Botanica brand wipes, and REI carries multiple affordable options. If you’re heading out on a cold weather trip, body wipes can be especially useful to get clean while also staying dry.
Experienced river runners have developed a few clever techniques to quickly and efficiently handle their basic hygiene needs.
- Does your hair feel dirty, but you don’t want a full bath? Grab a (trustworthy) friend, a water bucket, your soap or shampoo, and head to the rafts. Lean your head back and let your friend pour water on your hair. Then grab your soap or shampoo, lather up, and lean back again for the rinse! The inflatable kayaks work great for this technique as well!
- You can also use the raft to lean over the river and just clean your face. This is a popular morning activity among many experienced guides as a way to feel refreshed and ready for the day.
- After the last call for coffee has been made, wander down to the kitchen and check if there is any tea water still available. Bring along a towel or rag, pour the warm water on it, and enjoy the simple pleasure of flying first class while relaxing riverside.
There are some hygienic items that no matter where we are, we don’t want to live without. A toothbrush is at the top of that list for most people. Although many guides will bring an extra, just in case, this is not something we want to leave behind. I recommend a plastic case or Ziploc bag to keep the sand off the bristles. For those of us with long hair, a brush is another critical item. After a long day in your sunhat or bike helmet, nothing is quite as satisfying as brushing out your knots and tangles. Another essential many of us don’t want to forget is deodorant. Some brands are prone to melting and causing a mess in the desert heat, so keeping your stick in a sealed bag is a good idea. A small mirror can come in handy on occasion, especially if you wear contact lenses.
Leave it Behind
Obviously, when we are out in the wilderness, electrical outlets are nowhere to be found, so leave your blow dryers, curling irons, and straighteners at home. I have seen one or two gentlemen bring their razors on river trips, but most of us opt to embrace our inner mountain man and allow the extra growth. As for your makeup, most people will leave their full kit at home, but may choose to bring along a tinted chapstick.
Perhaps the most important tip as far as desert hygiene is concerned: be flexible! You may prefer a morning shower at home, but on a trip, you may only find the time in the evening, or vice versa. Some river campsites may be better suited for bathing than others, so check with your guide and plan accordingly. Accept that you may not be able to get as clean as you do at home, and that’s okay! Just remember a little desert sand is cleansing for the soul.
Originally from the suburbs near Cleveland, Ohio, Justin made his way to Utah after graduating from Ohio University with a degree in exploring and having fun… If not on the river or in the kitchen, you’ll find him wandering the mountains, drinking coffee, or writing down words he hopes will come across as sensical.